On this day, Trinity Sunday, I am not going to attempt to explain the Trinity to you, for I can’t. The doctrine of the Trinity, that God is one God and three persons all at the same time is not explainable. It is a human attempt to explain that which is beyond human explanation—the Divine. However, just because it is unexplainable or points to something that can never be explained adequately within the limits of human language doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
Our ancestors in the faith created the doctrine of the Trinity because they were trying to say something very important and true about the character of God. And these things were important because how we understand the character and nature of God impacts how we live and move and have our being. If we truly believe that we were made in the image of God and that we are called to live into that image, then we should want to understand the divine one who made us in the divine image so that we can understand who and what we were created to be. The Trinity is also an attempt to explain how God works in the world which also has an enormous impact on how we understand who we are, why we are here, and how we are to live.
So, what does the doctrine of the Trinity have to say to us about the character of God and how God works in the world? Well first and foremost we learn from the doctrine of the Trinity that God’s ways and the world’s ways are often very out of synch with each other. Our world and our thinking are often very binary. Things are this or that—good or evil, yes or no, black or white, healthy or unhealthy, friend or enemy, liberal or conservative, patriotic or unpatriotic, capitalist or socialist, in or out, right or wrong. I’m sure if we worked together, we could create an infinite number of ways that we think in this binary fashion.
Now, binary thinking is not all bad. Indeed, without some binary thinking by our ancestors, we would not exist. Binary thinking is simple and allows us to make very quick decisions. If I am hiking through the dense rain forest of South America and I see a snake on the ground, it is far better that I employ binary thinking and say to myself “snake dangerous run,” than stop to take a closer look to see if the snake really has the markings of a venomous snake or not. In truly dangerous situations such as this, it is far better to be mistaken about something being dangerous when it is not, than to think something is safe when it is really dangerous.
But most of us are not facing these kinds of dangers on a daily basis in today’s world. In the year 2022 our dangers are far more complex and binary thinking actually limits our ability to solve our problems because the solutions to most of our modern-day dangers/problems have not even been thought of yet. We need to think outside of the box to solve them. Also, binary thinking excludes many many people who do not fit within our binary way of seeing things—male/female, heterosexual/homosexual, patriotic/unpatriotic, liberal/conservative, healthy/unhealthy, capitalist/socialist, American/immigrant, business profit/social justice, pro-life/pro-choice. If we find ourselves judging another person, we are likely engaging in binary thinking.
And the good news is that God, as we understand God through the Trinity, is not binary either. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is more than one thing all at the same time. And there is no hierarchy amongst these three personae of God. The Father is not greater than the Son. The Son is not greater than the Holy Spirit. We sometimes view them this way, but it is not the truth. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in complete equality. There is no power differential between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Power is shared equally amongst the three. We understand the Father in and through the Son and the Holy Spirit. And there is great freedom for everyone in joining God and stepping out of our binary boxes.
I’ll give you an example. In a non-binary world, we understand male, female and everything in between and outside of these two binary categories by their relationship and equality with each other. For those of us who identify with the traditional binary categories of male/female, imagine the freedom of being released from this either/or thinking. You don’t have to worry that something you want to do or something you want to feel or say is too masculine or too feminine. Instead, you just get to be you. I get to be me. Everyone gets to be who they are in equal relationship with everyone else. This is the character of God and the intention of God for all of us.
The Trinity shows us another important characteristic of God—relationship. God exists in relationship. And God exists in relationship in a way that we are also intended to be in relationship with one another and with God, but often are not. God in God’s very being is relationship. And again, this is a relationship of equals. God is community.
Our culture ascribes to the cult of the rugged individual, and frankly it is destroying us. We proclaim meritocracy—that if an individual just works hard enough, then through their own individual hard work they can achieve success in this world and they don’t need anyone else to achieve this success. If they do make it, then they are better than those who didn’t make it. After all, they could have made it too if they just worked harder. It is a lonely culture. It is an isolated culture. And it is a lie.
No one can exist all by themselves. Everyone depends upon other people—people who went before them, people in their lives that they know, countless people they don’t know. I’ll give you an example. I am who I am today because I had parents who loved and cared for me. They could do that because they had parents who loved and cared for them. And their parents had parents who loved and cared for them, and on and on backward we could go. But it isn’t just my parents and ancestors who made me who I am. I had uncles and aunts. I had friends. I had teachers. Other people in my town paid taxes so there could be roads to take me to school and a school in which to learn. Farmers grew the food I ate. People coached the sports teams I played on. People led the youth groups I attended. When I was sick, doctors and nurses helped make me better. I think you get my point. We do not exist all by ourselves, and our successes and failures are never just our own. We are not us without countless other people.
And the Trinity shows us how we are to be in relationship with other people—power is to be equal. We are not to have power over other people, we are to have power with other people. We are to recognize and rejoice in our connection and interdependence. We are to understand that freedom comes in relationship and caring for another rather than in independence and self-reliance. If what I do harms another, then I need to stop what I am doing and behave differently. If my actions threaten another person’s autonomy, then I need to change my actions. If someone else is suffering we are all suffering.
When I look at the doctrine of the Trinity, I see a non-binary God who lives in perpetual relationship. As beings created in the image of this trinitarian, non-binary, relational God we are called to the same way of being. This is not always comfortable for us, which is also probably why the doctrine of the Trinity is uncomfortable for us as well. Binary thinking is simpler and easier. Believing that we don’t need anyone else and have individually earned everything we have gives us a false sense of control over a world that is ultimately uncontrollable. And yet, we are never truly happy and at peace in a binary individualistic world, because we weren’t created for such a world. As ones created in the image of God, we too are created to live outside of the binary boxes the world creates. We too are created to be in equal relationship with one another. It is a more complicated way of being, but worth it. Try it. I think you will agree. Amen.